Monday, December 10, 2007

Gender equality: Womyn power or Womyn surrender?

I've been reading Ariel Levy's book on Female Chauvinist Pigs (see earlier post) recently and found myself in agreement with a certain ambiguous feeling about gender equality. To summarize one of her arguments, the idea is that women have re-claimed some of the patriarchal traditions and stereotypes and made them their own. For instance, women have re-claimed porn as not only a male pleasure, but also as a female pleasure, both in terms of being a porn actress and finding this empowering, and in terms of deriving pleasure from being a porn audience.

The ambiguity, as Levy herself notes, may come from the fact that, on one side, such practices do promote women as sexual objects as much as they empower those women who use their sexuality to make it through in life. But, regardless of being empowered or not, the fact that women are being objectified (maybe by both men and women) remains, with all the negative implications and moral issues deriving from this objectification. For Levy, this may be part of the new raunch culture, built around sex. She writes: "The truth is that the new conception of raunch culture as a path to liberation rather than oppression is a convenient (and lucrative) fantasy with nothing to back it up" (Female Chauvinist Pigs, 2005, p. 82).

American Anthropology Association has recently been engaged in a similar debate on the subject of gender empowerment. The New York Times has discussed the matter here.. The debate had to do with female circumcision and whether this practice is not oppressive only when regarded through Western eyes, while it may be empowering in the eyes of local women. The debate is interestingly related to Levy's discussion of the raunch culture: to what extent women taking charge of their own sexuality and playing on the accepted stereotypes of beauty and heterosexual sex stereotypes are empowered and/or oppressed?

Photo credits: porcelaingirl

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